Though the seas have been somewhat shaky thus far, the Bobcat ship is afloat and heading toward its usual destination. Despite the loss of four of the top players in recent program history through graduation, Edinburg has held its own in two games, losing by a single point to Laredo schools Alexander and Nixon.
Coach Zeke Cuellar and his staff have been in constant communication/teach mode with a basically new ball club, finding problems and weaknesses and setting about the task of improvement. By the time the ‘Cats head into next weekend's Craig Smith, which begins Dec. 1, the coach expects his kids to have made solid progress.
"This is no surprise really, because everyone knows that we lost some really excellent kids," said Cuellar, whose band dropped a home game to Alexander 76-75 and then a road match at Nixon, 57-56, after having led in each. "So we knew we would be in this position, where these guys have to learn what it's like to be the leaders, to be real Runnin' Bobcats. They need to be convinced that they can play, do the job, and I think in the next few weeks they will step up."
Big men Gabe Rivas and Noe Espericueta are two of the Bobcats looking to assume roles as senior go-to options down low. Cuellar notes that Rivas is working on being more aggressive while Espericueta, who has the physical tools to be a star, has exhibited more maturity this fall than ever before. Both posts are busily negotiating the annual ritual that awaits former role players as they transition into prominent jobs.
"There is always pressure here with this program, based on the success it has had for so many years," Cuellar explained. "And that's for all the years, there are kids coming up behind the stars who left and they will feel a certain pressure to live up to the expectations. Very few years do we not have that situation. That comes with the territory."
Other Bobcats enduring the trial by fire include Milo Trejo and Matt Garza, perimeter players who each bring a specialty to the effort. Trejo is a gutty hustler with a great attitude while Garza has terrific range on the bomb. Together with newcomer Michael Harrison, this trio has yet to perfect the art of taking care of the ball, and Cuellar noted that this has to happen, hopefully sooner than later.
"We've had a lot turnovers and mistakes the first two games, we played against teams with more quickness overall than us and it showed," he said. "We are working on getting sharper with the ball, and cutting down the turnovers. Sometimes it looks like we rush it up and take desperation shots, and that's not the way we want it."
The stabilizing force may end up being Nick Micallef, who has battled through injuries to become the most experienced returner, a guy who started often on the 33-win Sweet 16 team of a year ago. Versatile and improved with the handle, Micaleff can play just about any position on the floor; Cuellar says he needs to stay under control and learns limits, but that he is definitely a vital part of the puzzle.
The Bobcats are being patient right now. They know that the rest of the league is ready to challenge their streak of six District 31-5A titles in a row. They also understand that if they do the work, studying film and showing the improvement the coaches expect, they will be right there in the fight.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but so far, we've hung tough in the ball games and had a chance to win each one," Cuellar said. "Our inexperience has shown in the key moments, but again, that's expected. By the time we reach district, we should be alright. It all depends on how much the kids can improve between now and then."
NOTES: EHS got its first win of the year Tuesday against La Joya, as a career-high 27 from Espericueta led to a 68-63 decision on the road. Down at the half, the Bobcats rallied for the W.
John Barrientos notched 25 the same night as Econ scored a solid road win, 69-58 against McAllen after a dominant third-quarter performance.